Clay Shirky revisited

Ten years ago Clay Shirky publiced his bestselling Here comes everybody. The power of organizing without organizations. I read the book a couple of years later and I liked it instantly. Most of all I was struck by the positive tone in his talking about the possibilities of the internet, digital culture and social media. At that time and certainly in the years up to 2008 a great deal of my friends, family and aquaintances, consisting particularly of people who were trained in the humanities at university, were critical and sometimes skeptical about all these new developments. Partly this attitude can be explained by the not yet so user friendly interfaces in the initial stage of the PC era, that scared a lot of people off. On the contrary I was an early adopter and took courses on using software applications and did a bit of programming, so I didn’t have a big audience when sharing my exciting experiences in that area.

            Clay Shirky argued that computers and the internet had developed way past the technological inconveniences of the early days and were now anchored in daily life. A majority of the population of Western society were on the internet, emailed each other and used Facebook. The digital world had lossed its onedirectional character and Web 2.0 was the new standard. It had become very easy to set up a virtual group with these tools. For everybody? Well, for anybody that had access to a computer and the internet.

Immediately after publication of Here comes everybody the reviews started to appear in great numbers. Many were positive or neutral but one of them was remarkably negative. Tara Brabazon published a very critical and almost cynical review of the book in which she argued that the message was clearly to smooth to her taste, that it had a ‘strange bibliography’ at the end and that it lacked adequate research and argument. But most important of all she pointed out that not everybody was included in Shirky’s Everybody. The author’s outlook was narrowed and didn’t take into account the old, the poor, the illiterate and the socially excluded.

A decade ago her argument made sense, but does it still stand in 2018? Especially by means of ongoing technological developments, things have changed quite a bit. More people got access to the internet compared to 2008. In Sub-Saharan Africa for instance the amount of internet users changed from 46.46 million in 2008 to 224.1 million in 2015. That’s still significantly less than North America (271.75 million in 2015) and especially Europe and Central Asia taken together (651.4 million in 2015), but it’s definitely improving [Murphy & Roser]. The amount of older people (75+) on social media, at least in the Netherlands, is also increasing, from five percent in 2012 to almost 35 percent in 2017 [CBS].

Ten years after the appearance of Here comes everybody Clay Shirky’s enthusiastic cheers about the new possibilities of Web 2.0 still ring in my ears, but the cynical remarks of Tara Brabazon have become obsolete. Injustice and inequality in the world at large are still a major problem, but that wasn’t what Shirky’s book was about.

References

Brabazon, Tara, ‘Here comes everybody. The power of organizing without organizations’. Published online at Timeshighereducation.com (2008). Retrieved from : ‘https://www.timeshighereducation.com/books/here-comes-everybody-the-power-of-organizing-without-organizations/401300.article’ (consulted september 17, 2018).

Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS), ‘Steeds meer ouderen op sociale media’. Published online at CBS.nl (2017) Retrieved from: ‘https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/nieuws/2017/52/steeds-meer-ouderen-op-sociale-media’ (consulted september 17, 2018).

Murphy, Julia, and Max Roser, ‘Internet’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org (2018). Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/internet’ [Online Resource] (consulted september 17, 2018).

Shirky, Clay, Here comes everybody. The power of organizing without organizations (London 2008).

Illustration (bookcover) retrieved from: ‘https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17030340’.

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